In the world of virtual fisticuffs there are 2D fighting games and then there are 2D fighting games, those series and franchises that are often the richest in mechanics and delicately-balanced subsystems, filled with equally convoluted plots and backstories. On the flip-side, that usually means said games are super-niche in their popularity and are almost impossible for new players to penetrate. BlazBlue has had that reputation for years, but recent entries have slowly started to peel away the layers of that violent onion.
And while last year’s BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle spinoff was a heavy dilution more akin to Blade Strangers or SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, BlazBlue Centralfiction Special Edition is a proper, full-fat entry and one that continues that trend of appealing to the hardcore input veterans while offering enough accessibility to coax in new fans to the rebel fold. Sure, it's based on an arcade release from 2015, but we won't let that count against it.
Fashionable lateness aside, it’s a joy to have a mainline BlazBlue on Nintendo Switch for the very first time. This is a franchise with a serious pedigree on handhelds, so not only is it well-suited to a flurry of battles in handheld mode, it’s also one that benefits from that extra time out in the wild. That ‘Special Edition’ moniker is the same as the ‘Extend’ subtitle given to previous re-releases, so Switch players are getting all the DLC that’s currently been released, bundled into one lovely package.
If you’ve played the series before (especially the previous entry in the series, the excellent BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma), you’ll be pleased to see all 28 of its combatants return to the roster, including mainstays Ragna the Bloodedge and popular new additions such as Kagura Mutsuki. Another eight have been bundled in from the console editions and DLC updates, making this the most complete and populous instalment yet. If you can’t find a character among this rowdy lot that takes your fancy, then fighting games probably aren’t for you.
Centralfiction doesn’t overhaul its formula – in all honesty, it doesn’t need to, such is the finely-tuned balance of its 2D fighting action – but it does make some important tweaks here and there. Speed and combo finesse is still the order of the day, so the new Active Flow system rewards players who are willing to press the attack. It’s a change that will give users playing in Stylish mode (Centralfiction’s simplified input model for less experienced fighters) more flair while veterans will love a little more firepower to play with.
Even without all the extra characters and costume variants afforded by the various updates and DLC released over the years, Centralfiction is a staggeringly vast package. Unlike many other fighters, which simply use their own respective arcade mode as a rudimentary story mode, Arc System Works' latest mainline effort boasts a fully-voiced and fully-animated story that brings the current Ragna-focused saga to a close. New players might struggle to follow what's going on, but if you've been invested in this multi-layered story previously, Centralfiction has plenty of pay-off (even if most of it is nonsense). It's hard to know where the series will go next, but it's a fine narrative sendoff, nonetheless.
Unfortunately, the issues surrounding an English dub – or the lack thereof, to be more specific – extends into Centralfiction on Switch so you'll have to make do with the original Japanese voiceover and English subtitles. If you're a purist, you'll likely not be bothered, but it can be a struggle to follow everything going on in a cutscene and read every hyper-fast subtitle. There is the option to skip right into the action, should you lose your tolerance midway through. There's even a huge index of terms and entries for various characters and events, so if you want to gorge on lore, it's right there in the palm of your hands.
Mode-wise, Centralfiction is packing some serious heat. Alongside that long story mode (and we mean long – there's even the option to watch a 30-minute recap of the entire mainline story plot), you'll have access to Grim of Abyss mode (which sees you using and collecting special cards that increase your stats), Score Attack mode (which, unsurprisingly, is all about racking up the best combos and Drive finishes to compete on global leaderboards) and Star Score mode (where you'll try and beat as many opponents as you can before a persistent clock reaches zero). The latter is one of the best setups in the game as you add time by pulling off impressive combos. There's even the obligatory Network mode for when you want to take the fight online. We experienced minimal lag thanks to Arc System Works' ever-reliable netcode.
BlazBlue Centralfiction Special Edition may be a few years late to Nintendo Switch, but that time hasn't dulled the sharpness of its 2D fighting package. Not only does it give the Ragna saga a proper send-off with a story mode that's so rich in character development it could be a full anime season in its own right, but it offers a staggering number of modes to keep you playing long after the credits roll. It runs silky-smooth docked or in handheld modes and runs like a dream online. The lack of an English dub still rankles, and new adopters are going to have to do a lot of research to understand what's going on, but it's well worth the effort.